One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from Japanese people here in Japan is “are you settling in ok?” I mostly don’t know how to answer this because the real answer takes more English than the asker bargained for. I reply with “yes, mostly” or “getting there”. And I think it’s a fair description of the current state of things.
I am settling in ok. There are still many challenges, although as I have officially been here for one month I do feel I’m adjusting with both grace and clumsiness. There are of course things I miss from home, mostly people (and a dog), but I am beginning to adjust to my life here. While I continue to struggle with the language barrier (and the heat), I also notice that I’m beginning to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Whether it’s accepting that I will be the sweaty foreigner no matter what I do, or simply following nonverbal cues to understand (or blindly comply) with conversations happening around me, I am learning to be ok with it. It can still be frustrating and tiring, and with the exception of staying at home I am constantly out of my comfort zone. There are moments of grief, and even beginnings of homesickness, but mostly there are moments of happiness, curiosity and awe. Every day I find out new things that make this culture so different from my own. I am learning constantly- whether it’s simple words in Japanese to help me get along or how to be more concise in my use of English; new foods at the grocery store (and old ones I’m learning they actually do have here!) or how Japanese school routine goes – each new bit of knowledge is contributing to my growth here and it feels strange and wonderful. It is not lost on me just how different of an experience this is from anything I’ve ever known before (and maybe anything I’ll ever do again). Having never left America prior to this I truly dove in head first and no matter how many orientations or how many people informed me of what it would be like here, I could never prepare myself for how it would feel. What I do realize is how much there is to be gained for me here, to not only learn about the Japanese people and their culture but also about myself and my own culture. I am fascinated by the differences and constantly spinning around how this style of life impacts ones perceptions and development (I’m still a social worker after all!) Sometimes I am shocked, sometimes I am envious, sometimes I’m just down right confused (“Why Japanese people?!?” and “Why not?”). I notice little things I’ve taken for granted in my own culture that are lacking here, but also learned different ways of life that I wonder why we don’t have at home. I’m living in contradiction and loving it.
Although I think it will take much more than a month to be truly settled in here in Japan, I think that in this short (and sometimes long) month I’ve been able to adjust the best I can. I know there are more challenges to come, and with it more opportunities to learn. I can only begin to imagine how I will feel 11 months from now, but I know that whatever it is I will be a better person than I am today because of everything I’ve done to “settle in to Japan”.